The rainbow grape and the national biggie (etc)

Pinotage and chenin blanc loomed large when I sat down last week with Angela Lloyd to taste through a dozen-plus samples of wine we’d been sent.

When L’Avenir introduced its Single Block Chenin Blanc with the 2007 vintage I was a great admirer (in those days the small top range was called Grand Vin). Though it was a touch sweet, these were days when the French-owned Stellenbosch estate, under cellarmaster Tinus Els, was minimising the use of new oak (just 7 months in older barrels for the chenin) and encouraging freshness. These days, with a different winemaking team, it is just those elements that made me less happy with the 2015. There are concentrated flavours lurking, and the wine is nicely dry, but the wooding is too obvious for me. Two-thirds acacia and one-third oak are used – I don’t know how much is new, or if it’s the acacia that’s the problem. And while there’s a good acid balance, it somehow seems dutiful than enthralling and fresh. For R216, it’s not hard to find a better Stellenbosch chenin.

Doran-Vineyards-Chenin-Blanc-2013If you want a real bargain fine chenin, there’s a first-rate one from Swartland fruit and Voor-Paardeberg vinification: Doran Vineyards Barrel Fermented Chenin Blanc 2013, quoted at just R75. Hard to imagine you could do better. Ripe, charming aromas, with fresh fruit flavours of peach and pear and honey tingling in the vinosity, the oaking merely supportive of flavours and texture – the wine has a lovely, rounded weight. A drinkable pleasure all the way down the bottle.

Incidentally, the big but juicy Doran Vineyards Shiraz 2013 from home (Voor-Paardeberg) fruit is an equally good bargain – unpretentious and very drinkable already, though it will age happily a good few years.

And so to Calitzdorp, of all places for chenin, where De Krans winemaker Louis Le Sueur van der Riet has introduced the  first wine in a range made “in conjunction with De Krans”, whatever that means. The elegantly packaged  Chenin Blanc (Natural Barrel Fermented, WO Calitzdorp) is the second offering, and most attractive it is too. Peach, dry grass, etc on the nose – I thought it a little funky in the best possible sense, but Angela demurred at the word, so perhaps I should just say interesting and characterful. It’s light-feeling, with a good follow-through of flavours.
LeSueurThe older-oak influence is subtle and integrated, the acidity gentle but sufficient to handle the touch of sweetness. Sadly just 1112 bottles were made, and they’re only available from De Krans – but well worth calling in for if you’re in those parts that are so pleasant in winter.

We had two pinotages, and one pinotage blend. As with the chenin, I was a trifle disappointed in the big and bold, slightly rustic, L’Avenir Single Block Pinotage 2014. Again rather woody – good, expensive French oak here, giving the spicy/tobacco character that many people enjoy, along with notably ripe, plummy fruit. Good intensity, with well managed firm tannins, but the finish is undeniably – and to me unattractively – sweet. Somewhat pricey at R320.

The other, more pleasing, pinotage we had was not, in fact, really a recent release but sent in celebration of some or other award it got (yawn). Eikendal Pinotage 2014 offers aromas more interesting, fresh and brightly fragrant than the L’Avenir (and it’s a third of the price, at R100). The older oak is restrained and supportive, the finish clean and fairly dry. Good to have a more modern approach to pinotage in Stellenbosch.

I think it was Vriesenhof that introduced the incestuous coupling of pinotage with its parents, cinsaut and pinot noir. Now there’s Beyerskloof Traildust 2014 (R100 from the farm). The name used to be used for Beyers’s CWG Pinotage, but was clearly thought too racily useful for rare appearances. The rich, ripe aromas are mostly pinotagey, but the redfruit brightness of pinot and cinsaut comes through more on the palate. It’s attractive and friendly in a burly sort of way – more rustic than fine, but that’s also OK.

Talking of redfruit brightness, this was rather lacking on the Fairview Cinsault 2015 we had, with the vibrancy characteristic of the current wave of cinsauts replaced by a very ripe, sweet jamminess and thickness of texture; it felt as if the wine was too implacably extracted, in old-style fashion. Something of a disappointment for R110.

But, to finish on a very positive note, let me sing the delights of Gabrielskloof Rosebud 2016, at R70. Peter-Allan Finlayson (of Crystallum fame) took over winemaking here two vintages ago, and already we’re seeing bottled signs of the revolution in style and quality that is happening at this Overberg winery. It’s all about freshness, perhaps naturalness, and light elegance so far. Qualities that apply unquestionably to this immensely appealing blend of syrah and Viognier, bone-dry, with a fairly modest alcohol of 12.5%. It’s lively, and  succulent, full of life and flavour. And intensely moreish. I could happily have swigged the rest of the bottle there and then, but duties, sadly, dragged me away and I had to leave the bottle to the tender mercies of the Lloyd household.


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